The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck
Analysis: Writing Style
Journalistic, Stream-of-Consciousness, Detail-loving, Cinematic
Steinbeck loves details, and he doesn't deprive us of them as he describes the Joads' daily lifestyle and routine. We know everything, from where Ma Joad keeps her letters, news clippings, and trinkets, to the exact part that is needed to fix the Wilson's touring car. In fact, Steinbeck is so good at being precise that by the time we finish The Grapes of Wrath, we've earned our PhDs in the art of auto mechanic repair. His chapters that treat the Joad family are full of lively, colorful dialogue that closely approximates the sound and rhythms of the Oklahoma speech patterns. We feel like we are right there, traveling alongside the Joads.
Steinbeck intersperses his chapters about the Joads with chapters that explore the life and times of the Dust Bowl through a broad, historical lens. These chapters tend to assume a stream-of-consciousness, as it depicts banks evicting tenant farmers, corrupt car salesmen selling broken-down cars for too much money, and even the very dust storms that ruin the land. In these instances, Steinbeck uses lots of repetition, making the language seem almost dreamlike and emphasizing the desperate times of the Dust Bowl era. Take a gander:
Listen to the motor. Listen to the wheels. Listen with your ears and with your hands on the steering wheel; listen with the palm of your hand on the gear-shift lever; listen with your feet on the floor boards. Listen to the pounding old jalopy with all your senses, for a change of tone, a variation of rhythm may mean – a week here? (12.6)
The repetition of "listen" creates a rhythmic quality, creates a sense of movement in this moment, and we get the sense that we are witnessing a kind of heightened reality. The narrator speaks in the second person, addressing a "you," and, suddenly, we are among the Joads and the thousands of other families who have spent their savings on buying a used car. Steinbeck makes us feel like we are part of the story.